There is always a dark side to special places. Those very same parks and preserves that awe us can also invoke dread. After Sandy, I visited a few of these places in the area.
Lewis Woodlands is that well-hidden park in the Village of Warwick. In Hurricane Irene, its sweet babbling brook, the Witches Brook, raged into downtown Warwick washing out roads. In Storm Sandy, a dozen of the already aged-out trees finally gave up. Broken and uprooted, they still now look like some steroid version of pick-up sticks. What was once a genteel estate garden with a gentle carriage path, now seems a derelict woodlot.
Warwick’s Stanley Deming Park is the village playground with many big old brittle willow trees. During Sandy, one fell and demolished the pedestrian footbridge right near the swing set.
At the Fuller Mountain Preserve on Bowen Road just off Warwick Turnpike, a few very large and dramatic trees have uprooted in a scale worthy of The Lord of the Rings. A hemlock has blocked the blazed trail requiring some inventive bushwhacking and a massive forked pine has fallen across the creek creating an inviting bridge for the daring.
In neither of these places is this loss tragic. No lives were lost, nor homes destroyed. So a visit to these places allows for something subtle, dark and rare. It can be a physical, poetic experience. Just beyond the practical thoughts of clearing, restoring, replanting and repurposing the downed wood, there hovers the presence of the holy. I use “holy” in the way theologian Rudolf Otto describes it as a “non-rational, non-sensory experience or feeling whose primary and immediate object is outside the self.” It’s the experience of mystery, both terrifying and fascinating at the same time. So those downed trees, reshaped streambeds, crushed bridges and blocked paths are invitations to consider the amoral ferocity of nature and the relentless presence of change, endings and beginnings. You probably can’t photograph it or plein air paint it, but you can feel it. It’s that feeling of being alive – right here and now -- and being grounded.
All this from a walk in the woods? Yes.
By Daniel Mack